‘The man with the white beard who has come to borrow money to make razor blades’

There was a strong German influence in the Sheffield steel industry in the early part of the twentieth century, with German-born men such as Sir Joseph Jonas and Charles Kayser being prominent in the industry. Another was Paul Richard Kuehnrich. This is the story of what happened to him during the First World War, which he survived, and later financial difficulties, which he did not.

During the war anti-German sentiments ran high throughout Britain, with German and Austrian-owned companies and German-born immigrants
suffering to various degrees. Many were interned, some deported. Kuehnrich was a naturalised Briton, but, like many of his (former) countrymen, he was hounded throughout the war. He escaped internment, but not suspicion. Kuehnrich, who moved to Sheffield in 1888 aged seventeen, was central to the development of high-carbon, high-chromium dye steel used for tool-making, and was an important figure in the development of safety razor
blades. He worked for toolmakers Marsh Bros, and later purchased another steel company, Darwin and Milner, and according to his 1911 Census form,was naturalised British in 1894. His status in Sheffield’s industrial establishment and social scale can be judged by the houses he kept. In 1901
he lived at No.3 Whitworth Road, Ranmoor, along with his wife Elsie and daughters Gertrude and Margot, aged eight and four. The family had four live-in servants; Harry Marshall, Mabel Addy, Mary Tinker and Rose Bogner.

Kuehnrich, then aged 30, described himself as ‘General Manager, Steelworks’, but was merely a ‘worker’. By 1911 the family had moved to
No.80 Ranmoor Road, and had two domestic servants, Martha Tagg and Edith Jones. The children were not at home (possibly attending university or private school, hence the reduction in the number of servants), but two German visitors were staying at the time of the Census; Clara Kuehnrich, a 63-year old widow (probably his mother), and 36-year-old Frida Gardener (his married sister). Kuehnrich was now ‘Steel Manufacturer, employer’. He had moved up in the world.

Kuehnrich’s idyllic family life and successful business ventures were to be turned upside down by the outbreak of war in 1914. Now living at Holly
Court, Silverdale Road, Ecclesall, Kuehnrich found himself the subject of accusations and innuendo, all because of his nationality. The fact that he had lived in Sheffield for over 25 years and had made his life, home, family and work here counted for little. There were rumours that he was a friend of the German Kaiser, that he stockpiled arms at his home and that he drilled a secret army.

He defended himself in a letter to the Sheffield Independent in April 1915, branding his accusers ‘unscrupulous jesters’ and offering to allow police to inspect his house. He complained that “considerable mischief has been caused by certain Sheffield travellers spreading . . . . false tales over the country”:

“[Allegedly] I had known already six months before the war broke out the exact date when the war would commence. I had always been a personal friend of the Kaiser, for whom I was a sort of chief spy. I had been rewarded by the Kaiser for some particularly good piece of spy work by being presented with Holly Court. I had a wireless installation. Holly Court was full of ammunition and guns were hidden there. There was enough dynamite at Holly Court to blow up the whole of Sheffield. Soldiers were being drilled by me at Holly Court on every Saturday and Sunday. The bed of the lake at Holly Court was concreted specially to carry the heavy guns. My business was financed by Krupp, and the steel which I sold was made in Germany.”

The implication that such charges were ridiculous, and the letter’s absence of contradiction or criticism of Germany, did not endear Paul Kuehnrich to the Sheffield public, and he was viewed suspiciously throughout the war. He was later fined for showing a powerful light from his house and again early in 1918 after a charge of food-hoarding (69 pounds of bacon), contrary to the previous year’s prohibitions. It is not clear to what extent his image and treatment derived from his German origins, but those undoubtedly played a part in the public’s unease.

Luckily for him, another charge was dismissed – one of hoarding Bovril, which emphasises the often ridiculous nature of the hatred towards Kuehnrich and other German-born residents. Kuehnrich’s name came up in Parliament in June 1915, one of nine people mentioned in a question regarding the internment of aliens. Sir John Simon, the Home Secretary, replied that three of the nine, including Kuehnrich, were naturalised British subjects and, in effect, were to be the subject of special legislation.

On April 29, 1932 the Manchester Guardian reported:


Mr Paul R. Kuehnrich, one of the pioneers of mass production of safety razor blades in this country, was found shot dead at his home, Holly Court, Sheffield, early this morning. Mr Kuehnrich, who was 61 years old, was a prominent Sheffield businessman and has been associated with several enterprises in the city. He was the founder and managing director of the Universal Rustless Steel Corporation Limited. Holly Court is a famous Sheffield residence, and here Mr Kuehnrich housed a magnificent art collection. ‘Daffodil Sunday’, when the house and grounds were thrown open to the public, was an eagerly anticipated event in the city. Mr Kuehnrich has given several of his pictures to the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, and has made numerous gifts to charity. He was a personal friend of Dr Eckener, the designer of Graf Zeppelin.

Mr Kuehnrich was a magnificent figure of a man with a white, flowing beard, which was the subject of considerable comment when he visited America a few years ago to raise money for a new venture. He was described in the American press as ‘the man with the white beard who has come to borrow money to make razor blades’.

The tragedy occurred in the music room, where Mr Kuehnrich spent much of his time, for he was an accomplished pianist. The door of the room, which was on the first floor, was locked, and the police had to gain admittance by climbing ladders and getting through the window. Mr Kuehnrich was lying near the piano. During the last few days his two daughters, who live in Germany, had been staying with him, but at his own request they went home yesterday. It was announced yesterday that Mr Kuehnrich had made a deed of assignment for the settlement of his affairs, and the trustee stated that it would probably be necessary to dispose of the contents of Holly Court. The statement of affairs showed that, when the assets were realised, there would be a surplus of £1,500.

The Daily Mirror also reported the events:

Mr Paul Kuehnrich, a well-known Sheffield steel manufacturer of German descent, was found shot dead at his home, Holly Court, Sheffield, yesterday. Mr Kuehnrich was a romantic figure, 6ft in height, and although connected with the razor blade industry had a flowing beard. His butler took his correspondence into his living room yesterday morning as usual. After leaving the room he heard two explosions and found the door was locked. Looking through the fanlight over the sitting-room door, he saw Mr Kuehnrich lying on the floor, apparently dead. He telephoned the police, who broke into the room. Two shots had been discharged from a double-barrelled sporting gun found near the dead man. Mr Kuehnrich was a pioneer of the manufacture of high-grade steel and razor blades, and was well known on the Continent and in America. Recently it was announced that to protect the estate against pressing claims he had executed a deed of assignment in favour of a Sheffield chartered accountant. A statement
of the position showed that subject to realisation there was a surplus of £1,500. Mr Kuehnrich, who was a native of Saxony, owned a castle in the shores of Lake Constance, where he was a neighbour and personal friend of Dr Eckener, of Graf Zeppelin fame. His home in Sheffield was well known to the public and contained many valuable art treasures.

Two days later the Manchester Guardian reported details of the inquest into Kuehnrich’s death:

The inquest was held at Sheffield yesterday on Mr Paul Richard Kuehnrich, the steel manufacturer, who was found shot dead in a music-room at Holly Court, his Sheffield home, on Thursday. Charles Preyer, butler, an Austrian, who had been in Kuehnrich’s service since 1926, said that since last December he had noticed that Mr Kuehnrich had become very depressed and worried. He knew that this was about his business affairs. Since April 14 Mr Kuehnrich had seemed much more depressed. He would not go anywhere and would not see anybody. He did not even go to business. On Wednesday he seemed worse than ever. About 7.20 on Thursday morning, Preyer said, he was going to call Mr Kuehnrich, when he met him on the landing. They talked in Mr Kuehnrich’s room for half an hour about his pictures and about the misfortune of being in such a fix. He (Preyer) gave advice on different matters, but Mr Kuehnrich kept saying: ‘Oh, Preyer, it’s too late. I don’t know; I must face it.’ About 8.30 he took a letter which had come by the first post. Mr Kuehnrich opened it, asked if there were any other letters, and seemed a little disappointed. A little while afterwards
the tragedy was discovered. The jury found that Mr Kuehnrich committed suicide in a fit of depression due to financial trouble.

Although Paul Kuehnrich perhaps should not be mentioned in the same breath as steel pioneers Benjamin Huntsman, Henry Bessemer and Harry Brearley, his name and achievements in his field have been virtually forgotten in his adopted city. Whether that is due to his country of birth is open to debate, as is the effect the war had on his business career after 1918. What is certain is that by 1932 Kuehnrich was in financial trouble, so much so that sadly he found it necessary to take his own life.


1. Marriage.
KUEHNRICH, Paul Richard Posted Image Registration District: Ecclesall Bierlow Posted Image County: Yorkshire Posted Image Year of Registration: 1891 Posted Image Quarter of Registration: Jul-Aug-Sep Posted Image No: 9C Posted Image Page No: 529 Posted Image Paul Richard Kuehnrich married Elise Buch,

Surname First name(s) Age District Vol Page
Births Jun 1892 Kuehnrich Elsa Gertrude Ecclesall B. 9c 455
Marriages Dec 1910 Kuehnrich Frieda H Ecclesall B. 9c 656
Marriages Jun 1913 Kuehnrich Elsa G Meckelburg Ecclesall B. 9c 541

2. December 1910

At the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Ranmoor, yesterday (says the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of December 29), a wedding was celebrated between Captain William S. Gardner, J. P., formerly of Aokautere (Manawatu), New Zealand, only surviving son of the late Dr. Gardner, of Painswick, Gloucestershire, and ; Miss Frieda Hidlegarde Kuehnrich, only daughter of the late Mr Robert Kuehnrich, Leipzig, Germany.

The service was performed by the Rev. J. G. Williams, Vicar of Ranmoor. The bride, a very handsome girl, looked exceedingly graceful as she passed up the aisle on the arm of her brother, Mr P. R. Kuehnrich, of Highcliffe, Sheffield.

She wore a beautiful wedding gown of ivory crepe de Chine, the yoke and sleeves of the corsage being composed entirely of fine Valenciennes and Irish lace, arranged over white satin. The long train was ornamented in a similar manner with beautiful lace and orange blossoms, and she wore a bridal veil of white tulle, falling from a circlet of orange blossoms in her hair. Her jewels were a diamond brooch, the gift of the bridegroom.

3. His activities have been described by Geoffrey Tweedale in “The razor blade king of Sheffield: The forgotten career of Paul Kuehnrich”, Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society, 1991, 16, 39-51. See also several chapters of that author’s [i]Steel City (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

4. National Archives Catalogue entry: Piece reference HO 144/1713/B16565
Scope and content Nationality and Naturalisation: Kuehnrich, Paul Richard, from Germany. Resident in Sheffield. Certificate A7997 issued 4 August 1894. Covering dates 1894; 1922 Held by The National Archives, Kew
Former reference (Department) B16565 Legal status Public Record(s)

5. 7 December 1931 Graf Zepplin pilot Dr Hugo Eckener made a visit to Mr Kuehnrich at Holly Court, Ecclesall.

6. In July 2012 I received the following information from a person in Sweden who had come across this article

" I read the article and history about mr Paul Kuehnrich The Steel king.

Thank you for the interesting history lesson.
The man you wrote about happens actually to be the grandfather of my Godfather.
And my Godfather didn't have any children of his own so I received a couple of things from him when he passed away. I happen to have a lot of original articles from his suicide and I am also the holder of "The steel kings" passport. Although I hope that I haven't misplaced it.

Thank you for keeping Paul's memory alive and I know that my Godfather Richard would be very happy."

" My Godfather was Richard E, Arnegger and his mother was daughter to Paul.
Richards father Alfred was in the steel business himself in Germany and was also successful and had factories.
Richard the grandson was an inventor and worked with steel during his lifetime mainly in Zurich and he also had a couple of patents.
My mothers Swedish aunt met Richard in Zurich Switzerland during the fifties and they fell in love and got married. They didn't have any children so more or less they considered my mother Margareta as their child. And that way Richard became my godfather, so I grew up with stories hearing about Paul.
That is how a small part of Paul's legacy ended up in Sweden when my mother aunt moved back to Sweden after Richard passed away.
Probably the Family Arnegger in Germany the children of Richards older brother have a lot more information about the matter."


Manchester Guardian - 29 April 1932

"Sheffield Manufacturer Found Shot." Times [London, England] 29 Apr. 1932: 16

Daily Mirror

Sheffield Independent - April 1915

London Gazette - 1894

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